BB-8 puppeteer hush-hush on The Last Jedi

Posted November 10, 2017 17:23:13

You may not see Brian Herring in a Star Wars film, yet the new movies just wouldn’t be the same without him.

The English puppeteer is the man behind the movements of droid BB-8, one of the most beloved characters from 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and due to return in next month’s sequel The Last Jedi.

Not only is Herring a critical part of the new films, but he’s also a huge fan.

“I’ve been a Star Wars fan since 1977. So I’ve been on the other side of the table for nearly 40 years,” he said.

Herring is currently in Brisbane for the Supanova pop culture expo.

More than 40,000 people are expected to attend the expo, running Friday until Sunday at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.

“To be here, to have been involved in The Force Awakens … I get to meet people like me,” he said.

“So I’ve always been a Star Wars fan, I love Star Wars fans, so it’s nice to be on the inside of Star Wars and telling people a little bit about how much fun that actually is.”

Star Wars role a dream come true

For Herring, who worked as a puppeteer, actor and stand-up comedian since the late 1980s, being a part of Star Wars after being a fan for so long was a dream come true.

“It’s the most surreal experience. I was very lucky when I did finally get to work on Star Wars,” he said.

“I almost worked on one of the prequels way back when and that didn’t actually happen.

“So to finally get the job and actually work on the Star Wars I know with the Millennium Falcon, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill … it’s just the most amazing experience.

“I said to the other puppeteer I worked with, ‘If I wake up and it’s been a dream I’m going to be very angry for a very long time’.”

Herring said there were seven versions of BB-8 used in The Force Awakens.

“Each one has a different function, so we got some animatronic ones which have wheels which are driven around, there are just straight ones that sit on the deck that can wiggle around,” he said.

“There’s another version which is kind of like a lawn roller, which has rods and handles on it and I have certain amount of control with my friend and if we want him to run along I have to push him.

“I can be seen on a lot of the making of documentaries in a green nylon suit in the desert in Abu Dhabi in 59 degree heat, running through the sands, performing BB-8.

“I also make the noises for him on set so that when Daisy Ridley is talking to BB-8 he answers her back so as an actor you get something to work on.”

Herring hush-hush on Last Jedi

The Last Jedi is out next month, yet there’s not a lot Herring can say on the matter, other than the fact that BB-8 will be back.

“I can’t tell you too much about it. It’s very, very hush-hush.”

But he did say the new film will leave fans satisfied.

“You’re going to be very happy,” he said.

“[The director] Rian Johnson has done something very unique with this.

“There’s a line Luke Skywalker says in the trailer, something along the lines of, ‘this is not going to go the way you think it is’, and I think that’s a good indication of the movie.”

New trilogy of Star Wars films announced

Herring’s first day at Supanova coincides with the announcement that Last Jedi director Rian Johnson will be creating a new trilogy of Star Wars films.

The puppeteer said he couldn’t be happier.

“Rian is such a nice guy, he’s a great director and he’s really good to work with,” he said.

“He’s got a very big brain, and Rian has a very unique take on The Last Jedi and I think he’s definitely the right man to take that forward.”

No release dates have been set for the new films.

Other guests at Supanova this weekend include icons of the pop culture world such as Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown, and Stan Lee, who helped bring Spider-Man, the Hulk, Iron Man and the X-Men to life.

Topics: popular-culture, arts-and-entertainment, brisbane-4000, qld

Where does your money go after buying a pair of Nikes?

By Four Corners with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

Posted November 07, 2017 05:00:05

Extensive efforts by Nike to shift profits from high-tax countries to no-tax countries and minimise its tax bill internationally have been exposed.

An investigation by Four Corners has revealed intricate workings of the world’s largest sportswear retailer’s tax manoeuvring, based on 13.4 million documents revealed in the Paradise Papers leak.

The investigation, in conjunction with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists from documents obtained by German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, shows the Australian company is owned by — and pays large amounts of money to — Nike companies housed in the low-tax destination of the Netherlands.

The company’s own filings show that Nike has only paid tax of 1.4 per cent on accumulated global offshore profits of $US12.2 billion.

But how do they do it?

Let’s have a look…

Take this pair of Nike shoes for example.

A chunk of the money you pay goes straight to the retailer to cover their costs and profit.

So now we’re left with the money Nike makes wholesaling a pair of shoes.

Say that figure is a nice, round $100 — that money takes a surprising journey.

About $80 of that will go to a Nike company in the Netherlands.

Why the Netherlands?

It could be because Nike likes tulips and bicycles.

Or it could be because Nike prefers the Dutch tax regime.

Remember, if you make a dollar of profit in Australia, you have to pay 30 cents in tax.

In the Netherlands, if you play your cards right, you may not have to pay a cent of tax — and get to keep all your profit.

From the $80, Nike pays for the manufacture of each pair of shoes in factories it subcontracts in countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia and China.

While Nike’s manufacturing costs aren’t publicly available, a report from German consumer group Stiftung Warentest, calculated the average price of manufacturing and transporting for some of the top athletic shoe manufacturers was about $36.

From that $80 Nike also pays about $17 in royalty payments — a figure based on company disclosures — to the Dutch company called Nike Global Trading BV.

And Nike passes on its royalty payments to another company in the Netherlands, Nike Innovate CV.

Nike Innovate CV is a very weird tax animal: while it is a Dutch company, it has no home address for tax purposes.

Dutch tax experts say the structure enables what is known as “double non-taxation” — a complicated way of saying the company doesn’t pay tax.

That estimated $17 pays for the brand. It’s for the use of things like the Swoosh or the Air bubble under your heel.

It’s for any number of features that Nike has taken a reported 4,200 patents for worldwide.

It means that for years Nike’s operations outside the United States have been sending billions of dollars offshore, first to Bermuda and then more recently to the Netherlands.

Nike now reports figures showing that of the $US12.2 billion in profits it has made from all these royalties, it has paid about 1.4 cents in the dollar in tax.

No wonder Nike likes the Netherlands.

Now let’s go back to the $100.

After Nike has sent the $80 to the Netherlands, it spends about $18 to distribute and sell its shoes in Australia.

So there is only a very skinny profit left in Australia: just over $2 for that $100 pair of shoes.

When you add it all up, Nike in Australia generated almost $500 million in revenue but made about $11 million in profit in 2016.

Tax activists ask why it is that Australia makes $2 in profit from that $100 but Nike in America makes about $14 in profit.

“That’s a pretty good indication that there’s some income shifting going on,” says Matt Gardner, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

So how much of that $100 ends up with the Australian Tax Office?

In 2016, it was about 89 cents.

Nike says that it complies with all its tax obligations.

Nike Australia said: “We rigorously ensure our tax filings are fully aligned with how we run our business, the investments we make and the jobs we create.”

Nike is not alone in seeking out low-tax jurisdictions, and paying large sums to what are called “related parties”.

Australian Taxation Office figures show almost $148 billion flowed through low-tax jurisdictions such as the Netherlands in 2013.

It’s a game called “profit shifting” and it makes tax officials — and the public — angry that profits are moved from high-tax countries to very low-tax countries.

Because that’s less money for roads and schools and hospitals. And fat profits for offshore companies, their lawyers and accountants.

Gardner says: “There is a strong and growing belief that government is not there to serve us and when it’s documented as well as it has been that companies like Apple and Google and Microsoft — these incredibly profitable companies — are just able to use the tax system like a pinata, that just reinforces the belief that no-one cares about the plight of middle income families.”

Paradise Papers

The cache of leaked documents reveals an industry designed to sell secrecy. This is one story from a Four Corners investigation into the Paradise Papers.


Topics: tax, fraud-and-corporate-crime, business-economics-and-finance, popular-culture, arts-and-entertainment, australia, netherlands, united-states

Why are Australians embracing Halloween?

Posted October 31, 2017 06:03:53

Halloween is a tradition with Celtic and Pagan origins, but it has well and truly arrived in Australia — why?

Whether it is Aussies’ love of parties or the challenge of dressing up, it is not just children in Australia enjoying the sweet treats this Halloween.

One business owner has noticed this year, people of all ages are donning spooky costumes and taking part.

“It’s not only just the kids it’s the adults having a go as well,” Michael Soames from the Base-House Warehouse said.

The party shop at Alexandria in Sydney’s inner-east has had a slew of customers buying Halloween decorations.

“I think it’s certainly escalated the range in this store, [it] just keeps getting bigger and bigger every year as demands asks for different things,” Mr Soames said.

Cob webs, pumpkin buckets and toy weapons have all been big sellers this year, he added.

It’s all a bit of fun

Mr Soames said he believed Halloween was being embraced because it was a community event that any neighbourhood, business or school could be part of.

“You get a lot of people doing dress-up themes for businesses,” Mr Soames said.

“A lot of the schools get on board with things these days.

“I know a lot of older people now are taking up the vogue and dressing up tombstones and figurines in the front yard.

“I think Australians just like to have a party sometimes.”

Chris Raynor, who runs website Halloween Australia, said she was addicted to the holiday.

“We usually get told our decorations are the some of the best in Mosman,” she said.

“You can get disparaging comments from some people, but it’s all just fun.”

Ms Raynor defended Australians who may be criticised for participating in Halloween-themed events.

“It’s not just the US — it’s also the UK, so it’s not an issue of people blindly copying America.”

‘There is no use fighting it anymore’

Other New South Wales residents said they had been shocked by the rise of Halloween in Australia, after having lived overseas and returning home.

Andrea Martinez of Erskineville returned from Papua and was not expecting the new prevalence of Halloween.

“When we came back we were quite surprised at how popular it was just in the last couple of years,” she said.

Merridy Eastman of Newtown lived in Europe for some time, and upon coming back realised Halloween was not just a fleeting trend down under.

“I left in 2003 and came back in 2009 and the difference was extraordinary,” she said.

“It’s big in the eastern suburbs, it’s big in the inner-west so it’s here to stay. There is no use fighting it anymore.”

Topics: offbeat, popular-culture, community-and-society, australia, nsw

Reese Witherspoon stars in rom-com antidote to Weinstein’s Hollywood

Posted October 19, 2017 12:30:16

The new Reese Witherspoon romantic comedy Home Again begins with her character, Alice, talking about her late father.

In a montage of press clippings and family photos, she tells us he was a celebrated filmmaker in the 1960s and 70s who made unflinching, honest films about adult relationships. He was also a philanderer.

Unsurprisingly, the film that follows is a kind of stylistic rebuttal — a pastel-hued, poppy confection that’s both a knowing fantasy and a preposterous contrivance.

Alice is a single mother of two girls who runs an interior design business. She’s just left her record producer husband (Michael Sheen) in New York to start again in Los Angeles, returning to the terracotta Spanish mission house that once belonged to her father.

Her mother (Candice Bergen) lives just around the corner and keeps her company, but soon she has houseguests: a trio of aspiring young male filmmakers she meets during an uncharacteristically wild night celebrating her 40th birthday.

Of these, the one who looks most like an underwear model (Pico Alexander) turns up in her bed, and although she sees the use-by date on the relationship before it begins, she decides he’s worth the rebound.

Home Again is the debut feature of writer director Hallie Meyers-Shyer, and is produced by her rom-com filmmaking mother Nancy Meyers. It hits its marks — the female rivalries, the ex-husband who comes back into the picture, the joys and disappointments of new love — but it also does something deeper.

Exterior beauty underwrites emotional intensity

It’s not often we see Hollywood movies about older women dating younger men. The few that have been made, like The Graduate, often seem preoccupied by the surrogate mother-son dimension to the relationship, or the more recent archetype of the “cougar”.

Witherspoon, on a career high after the TV series Big Little Lies (which she co-produced), conforms to neither stereotype. She’s incandescent in the role, and her character’s eye for beauty becomes a strength of the film.

Handsomely laid-out tables, Hamptons-style furnishings and lush gardens are not just setting, but also theme.

Controversial feminist critic Camille Paglia once described the Real Housewives reality TV franchise as a “glowing appreciation of beautiful objects”, and her words could apply here — Home Again follows a tradition of melodramas stretching back to Douglas Sirk in which exterior beauty underwrites an emotional intensity.

Is it any wonder the men in the film come under Alice’s spell? An early scene has them marvelling at the thread count of her soft sheets, and by the end, one of them has taken her lead and started buying flowers to decorate his flat.

These are small details, but to dismiss them would be to ignore the way they bring depth, and perhaps to buy into the cinematic snobbery that values the kind of masculine, auteurist cinema Alice’s father probably made over movies like Home Again.

In the wake of the anger and grief unleashed by the Harvey Weinstein allegations, which this week included Witherspoon’s own revelation she was sexually assaulted by a director when she was 16, Home Again is a fantasy of romance and female empowerment that arrives at an opportune time.

It’s a lot of fun, and maybe a little bit restorative.

Topics: arts-and-entertainment, comedy-film, romance-films, popular-culture, united-states

Is it time to get rid of your CD collection?

Posted October 17, 2017 05:53:20

Greg Cooper was going through a marriage break-up the day he decided to sell his CDs.

The 1,000-piece collection had been two decades in the making. But seeing it there, filling a shelf almost as tall as him, he decided it was time to be “cut-throat”. Everything must go.

“I was pretty exhausted, mentally and physically, packing up an entire house, and had had a few wines and wrote this quite heart-felt eBay listing that went through my life, really, through the CD collection.”

There was the more mainstream Green Day and Foo Fighters — “stuff you listen to when you are 13 in 1996” — all the way through to the rare punk and hip-hop of his 20s and 30s.

“It was kind of quite cathartic, actually, and made me feel a lot better about letting go of the past,” Mr Cooper, 35, said.

Pretty soon, he was loading a bundle of 800 compact discs into a stranger’s car, $1,050 richer.

“It was quite a weird experience.”

The question of what to do with your CD collection — throw out, sell, store for posterity — is one music fans everywhere are having to consider.

CD players are becoming rarer in homes and cars, as the take-up of streaming continues to surge.

But like we did with the recent vinyl revival, will we come to regret getting rid of our CDs — and everything they say about us?

‘I’ve kept them because I’m not sure if I want to part with them’

Francesca Von Schreibern has spent 12 years building a collection — mostly New Zealand dub, reggae and hip hop, plus some 70s rock and (she’s embarrassed to admit) a little bit of pop.

For the past four years, that collection has been boxed up, gathering dust. She no longer owns a CD player.

“Records, there’s something romantic about them,” Ms Von Schreibern, 41, who lives in Sydney, said. “A CD just doesn’t have that same quality.”

She placed an advertisement on Facebook — “Time To Get Rid Of My CDs!” — but has so far had no interest.

While she’s keen to clear some space, she admits to a pang of wistfulness about actually doing the deed.

“I’ve kept them in boxes for years, so I haven’t touched them,” she said.

“I’ve kept them because I’m not sure if I want to part with them. I’m just a bit unsure if I am ready.”

For every seller, there must be a buyer

Not everyone is getting rid of their CDs.

Scott Thurling, a longtime music fan in his early 40s, started collecting through record clubs in high school.

The growth of his collection — about 10,000 titles, mostly guitar pop, folk and new wave — has slowed in recent years, but continues, mostly as he takes on the stuff his friends want to get rid of.

“I might offer them a nominal amount, it might be $100 for 100 CDs, or 200 CDs,” Mr Thurling said.

“No-one has high expectations of a high dollar value from the collections I’ve bought. It’s just finding a good home for them.”

Though he does subscribe to Spotify and Apple Music, he admits he doesn’t easily let go of a lot of “music-related things”. The walls of his home, in the Melbourne suburb of Mitcham, feature gig posters taken from pubs over the years. And he’s got his old CD Walkman, though he doesn’t use it much anymore.

“There may be a stage where I bring myself to purge some of the CDs, knowing that they are living on digitally if I needed to hear them again,” he said. “But we are not at that stage yet.”

If he doesn’t, his nine-year-old daughter might.

“She looks with bemusement at my collection. I keep saying ‘you are going to own these one day’ and she says ‘I am selling them Dad, as soon as you are gone’.”

‘The CD is not a beautiful looking thing’

Mr Cooper, for his part, doesn’t think he’s going to miss his collection — and doubts that, like vinyl, the CD will come roaring back into the popular consciousness.

“The dual cases are ugly as hell, they break, they get all scratched up,” he said. “The CD is not a beautiful looking thing.

“The artwork on some of them is great but it’s like 10cm by 10cm. It’s not something you want to put on your wall and admire.”

If he’s ever feeling nostalgic, he said, he just searches YouTube or Spotify.

Topics: music, arts-and-entertainment, popular-culture, australia

The latest trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi is here

Updated October 10, 2017 15:58:35

We’re only two months away from the release of the next Star Wars movie, but if you can’t wait for a taste, you’re in luck: the latest trailer has dropped.

Just be warned, director Rian Johnson initially suggested you might want to steer clear so that nothing is spoiled:

He’s since recanted though, so you’re probably safe unless you really don’t want to know anything:

Still with us? Here’s what we saw.

The trailer opens with shots of Kylo Ren as Supreme Leader Snoke, a villain from the dark side, says: “When I found you, I saw raw, untamed power — and beyond that, something truly special.”

It then cuts to Rey, who is seen training with a lightsaber on the tiny mountainous island where she met Luke Skywalker as the very end of 2015’s The Force Awakens.

She questions her destiny, saying: “Something inside me has always been there.”

Skywalker looks impressed by her use of The Force, observing, ominously:

“I’ve seen this raw strength only once before. It didn’t scare me enough then. It does now.”

We also see the late Carrie Fisher in her last appearance as Princess Leia, as well as the return of new characters Finn and Poe Dameron.

The biggest moment comes at the end. After a series of dramatic action sequences, Rey says, “I need someone to show me my place in all this,” after which Kylo Ren offers her his hand.

The movie releases in Australia on December 14.

Also, prepare your wallet, because your child is probably going to a want a plush toy of this weird new Pokemonesque creature that was just revealed:

Topics: film-movies, science-fiction-films, arts-and-entertainment, popular-culture, united-states

First posted October 10, 2017 15:43:55

Key moments from Tom Petty’s 40 years in rock’n’roll

Updated October 03, 2017 17:57:30

To reduce a highly influential, respected body of work — one that spanned four decades — into a definitive list would be a little hard.

Instead, here are five choice cuts from the career of Tom Petty, who has died at the age of 66 after suffering cardiac arrest at his home in Malibu, California.

Petty had a slew of hits in the 70s and 80s, releasing records first with Mudcrutch and later with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. He was also a member of The Traveling Wilburys, a super-group featuring Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Roy Orbison.

His work with Heartbreakers, particularly on early albums like Damn The Torpedoes and You’re Gonna Get It!, swung more towards classic rock; his voice on radio hit Refugee is strained in the tradition of 70s guitar bands.

The record went to number 2 on the US Billboard charts — bested only by Pink Floyd’s The Wall — and received critical praise.

The Traveling Wilburys, and some of Petty’s later solo work, you’d probably file under country — it had a much stronger southern American sensibility.

Henry Wagons, a musician and the host of Tower of Song on Double J, said the Wilburys were a precursor to the Americana genre now associated with musicians like Wilco and Ryan Adams.

“Tom Petty was playing this Americana music before the genre even existed,” he told the ABC.

“He helped pave that road in between southern rock, twang and country and classic rock and roll and he walked that tightrope like no-one else.”

As much as Petty was a songwriters’ songwriter — how else do you get to be in a band with Dylan, Orbison and a former Beatle? — he found massive popular success, selling more than 80 million records worldwide.

His later work with The Heartbreakers was more polished, and probably more radio-friendly.

Runnin’ Down A Dream, from his 1989 album Full Moon Fever, showcased his knack for melody.

Petty’s commitment to the heartland — the stories of regular hopes and dreams that formed the backbone of some of his major hits — saw his songwriting compared to Springsteen’s.

It probably also contributed his reach and ability to shift units.

“He was observational, he was funny, he was wry, he was intelligent,” Wagons said. “And an incredibly smart, perceptive songwriter.”

Free Fallin’, also from Full Moon Fever, which is considered his first proper solo album without The Heartbreakers, is probably one of his most recognisable songs, and it has that “real-America” feel.

“She’s a good girl, loves her Mama,” Petty sings. “Loves Jesus and America too.”

Petty’s influence was wide-ranging, beyond Americana and classic rock.

The first time REM’s Peter Buck and Michael Stipe played with a drummer and bass player behind them — while Buck was auditioning to join a band Stipe was in at the time — they jammed on Petty’s I Need To Know.

“I think, because he had so many hit singles and was so famous for so long, people kinda take for granted that he was actually doing really great work,” Buck told Double J’s Karen Lang.

“He was a master of writing catchy hooks. He wrote really personal songs in a way that everyone could listen to them and relate to them.”

Topics: music, popular-culture, pop, rock, united-states

First posted October 03, 2017 17:45:34